Reluctant to talk to your customers? 4 reasons why you shouldn't be

by Justine Tabone

Across start-ups and B2C enterprises, customer interviews are de rigueur ahead of any major product launch, rebrand, or transformation project. B2B organisations however, have been more hesitant to engage their base in this way. In an age of empowered and informed customers and a rapidly evolving landscape, B2B organisations are missing out on valuable insight by not speaking to their customers early and often while designing a proposition or taking it to market.

In working with B2B enterprises, there are 4 barriers that we often observe when involving customers more deeply in the way they take their products and services to market:

1. “We are doing well already, why do we need to consult our customers?”

This is the typical refrain from companies that enjoy product leadership e.g. in technology, or that have a regulatory moat e.g. pharmaceuticals or financial services. Often these organisations have a standout capability in one area such as Research and Development or Government Affairs. However, market leadership driven “inside-out” can be transient. By combining existing differentiators with deep insight from customers, these organisations can anticipate the next wave of unmet customer needs and build an enduring differentiator against their competitors.

2. “It will damage my relationship with my customers if too many people in my organisation start talking to them directly”

This objection is typically raised by sales leaders in industries which have traditionally been dominated by relationship selling models.  We get it – salespeople see themselves as the CEO of the customer and are rightfully protective of these relationships. However, today’s customer will invariably have access to sources of information already – from other players in the industry or outside sources with varying degrees of independence and veracity. By collaborating across multiple channels, functions and stakeholders within your organisation to listen to customers at multiple touchpoints, you can get a richer picture of their preferences and nudge them towards satisfaction and advocacy.

3. “I am held back by regulatory constraints about what we can and can’t do”

The plethora of recent scrutiny and scandals in industries as diverse as Banking, MedTech, Energy and Aged Care, has justifiably made organisations gun shy about what sort of conversations they can have with their customers.  While well intentioned, a lot of regulation acts as a handbrake on customer-centricity and innovation, as organisations invest in onerous compliance requirements and employ checkers upon checkers to ensure there is no semblance of conduct risk at the frontline.

Our approach goes somewhat against the zeitgeist by focussing on what you should do, rather than what you’re allowed to do. Listening and responding to customers is by definition virtuous. Map out what conversations you want to have with customers and how you would like to respond. Then work with your legal, compliance and technology teams to systematically encode safeguards in core systems to ensure the letter and intent of regulation is adhered to.

Even if the process is painful the first-time around, the effort is well worth it if a repeatable, sustainable approach to garnering customer insights can be established for the long-term.
4. “We already do NPS once a year – what would we do with more feedback”

The introduction of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) was a significant innovation in elevating the importance of the customer experience. When executed right, NPS is a valuable source of customer insight. However, deploying NPS on an annual cycle alone misses the opportunity to more holistically understand customer sentiment at the moments that matter to them.

A more effective approach is to think about building a customer advocacy program that measures a variety of the right lead or lag metrics (NPS, CSAT, verbatim capture, response time, resolution rate etc.) through the most appropriate method (survey, focus group etc.) for each moment.

Capturing and analysing a combination of detailed qualitative feedback and accompanying quantitative measures can provide richer, more actionable insight at a more frequent pace that keeps up with customers’ expectations.

Key takeaway:

Customer-centricity is an oft-quoted aspiration and generally unsuccessful in its execution. The first step towards achieving it is to listen to customers and respond systematically to their feedback. That is one lesson B2B enterprises can learn from their B2C brethren. There is, however, one final caveat. In the concentrated, relationship-driven world of business customers – every conversation raises expectations. Speak to them by all means, but with it comes an obligation to truly listen and then act on what you hear.

Worded by Justine Tabone with Jessica Flynn.

Ready to get started? Contact us now to see how we can help you incorporate customer insights into BAU today.